Tea is a common drink in many cultures, consumed socially, privately, as part of rituals, or for its medicinal properties. Almost every culture has a history with tea, making it one of the most popular beverages worldwide.
In China, where tea has been consumed for some 2,000 years, there are five separate classes of tea: red, green, black, oolong, and pu-erh. Pu-erh is a particularly unique type of tea, which goes through a fermentation process prior to consumption that gives it medicinal qualities.
Pu-erh, also sometimes called pu’er, po lei or bo nay tea, is often served with meals in China, as it is known to help with digestion. Unlike most teas, pu-erh tea goes through a process called microbial fermentation, where active bacteria, molds, yeast and fungal cultures are added to the tea, giving it a unique flavor and chemical composition.
The Medicinal Properties Of Pu-Erh Tea
Pu-erh tea contains ingredients known as theyphylline and gamma-aminbutyric acid (or GABA), which have been shown to be useful in alleviating the symptoms of many conditions, including asthma, arthritis and anxiety.
A recent study published in the Journal of Agricultural and Food Chemistry compared pu-erh to oolong, black, and green tea in terms of its weight loss and cholesterol suppression effects, finding that oolong and pu-erh teas had the biggest impact in these areas(1). Pu-erh was the most effective when it came to lowering overall cholesterol levels as well.
A second study in the journal Experimental Gerontology examined the effects of fermented and unfermented pu-erh tea on weight gain and cholesterol levels in rats. Fermented pu-erh tea, the study concluded, “exerts strong antioxidant and lipid-lowering effects and therefore can be used to reduce the risk of cardiovascular disorders.”(2)
Pu-Erh Tea And Epilepsy
In Taiwan, the Department of Biotechnology at Yuanpei University published a study in the Journal of Biological Sciences that looked at the effects of pu-erh tea on oxidative stress in patients with epilepsy. The combination of pu-erh tea and GABA, they concluded, “may have clinical applications in epilepsy”.(3)
Pu-Erh Tea And Diabetes
Pu-Erh tea has been called a “wonder cure for diabetics” by the China Daily paper, which reported on a study on the effects of pu-erh tea on diabetes(4). The study compared the effects of pu-erh tea on blood sugar levels to the effects of a popular blood sugar lowering medication, Rosiglitazone. They found that pu-erh tea had a more profound impact on blood sugar levels than even the Rosiglitazone, indicating that pu-erh tea could have protective effects when it comes to diabetes.
Enjoying Pu-Erh Tea
Pu-erh tea is typically sold in tightly compressed “cake”-like shapes, or bricks. In order to brew the tea, you first must pry off a piece from the brick for use in the brewing process. Some pu-erh bricks are fermented for years, packed tightly together through a special process of pressing and piling. There is a special technique to prying apart these bricks.
First, insert a tea needle (found at most specialty tea shops where pu-erh is sold) into one of the four corners of the brick. Rotate the needle and press it into the brick to insert it.
Next, withdraw the needle and insert it into the brick again, fairly close to where you inserted the needle the first time. Rotate and press the needle into the brick to loosen the tea. Once you have done this, you can usually use the needle to chip the corner off the brick and pry off the first pieces of pu-erh tea.
A pu-erh brick, when properly used, doesn’t dissolve into pieces, but rather remains in a brick form while chunks are pried off in layers. Each layer is said to have it’s own unique flavor and properties.